Avoiding redundancy with sabbaticals

Businesses wishing to avoid making redundancies, but who find themselves temporarily overstaffed, may consider offering sabbaticals to their workforce. This was an option taken up by several companies during 2009, including British Telecom and Vauxhall.

Establish terms and conditions

If employees can be found who wish to take up such an offer - or, indeed, if any employee suggests taking a sabbatical - it is wise to ensure that the terms and conditions of the leave period are clearly established with reference to employment law. For example, it is clear that the level of payment, if any, during the leave period should be determined. Whether the sabbatical will affect the continuity of employment of the worker is also central to the agreement between employer and employee.

If a sabbatical is taken, the employer should take care to include the absent employee in certain considerations, such as pay reviews. Bonuses may still be payable to absent workers if the calculations that lead to their value relate to work undertaken before the employee took the leave, for example.

Depending on the terms agreed between the parties, an employer may be able to reclaim the value of certain benefits made available to the employee on sabbatical under a 'claw-back' arrangement, if the employee does not return for a significant period of time, or at all, at the conclusion of his or her period of leave.

Benefit to employers

From an employer's viewpoint, the ability to avoid company layoffs whilst saving on payroll costs and future recruitment processes may be invaluable. A spokesperson for the BT sabbatical scheme pointed out that employees may also leap at the chance of the "long holiday they've always wanted without having to quit their jobs."

Research undertaken by a business rescue firm in 2006 showed that career breaks offer employee retention benefits to firms, with more than two thirds of the workers interviewed saying that their loyalty to an employer would be increased if sabbaticals were available.

Potential drawbacks to the process have been noted, including fears that returning employees may have become sidelined while away from the workplace, or that workers who remain in the office may attempt to protect their own employment by undermining those who are on long-term leave. It may be advisable for businesses to have systems in place to avoid such issues if sabbaticals are to be offered.

Expert advice in sabbaticals, redundancy and all aspects of employment law

The Employment Law department of JMW Solicitors brings together a group of experts in this complex and vital area of legislation. Under the leadership of Lindsey Bell, ranked as a leading professional by Chambers, the team combines a commercial awareness with deep legal knowledge, providing an efficient and effective service to its clients.

For more information about the ways in which JMW's employment lawyers can serve your business' needs, from recruitment to redundancy, please contact us on 0345 872 6666 or use our enquiry form and we will respond promptly.

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